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British American Tobacco France vs. National Committee for Tobacco Control [France] [October 07, 2021]
British American Tobacco France (BAT France) appealed a lower court ruling (in "urgent proceedings") ordering the deletion of materials and content promoting e-cigarettes from the website "govype.com/fr" and ordering BAT to pay certain costs and damages. The appellate court ruled that some of the disputed content clearly constituted messages of an advertising nature, having the effect of promoting the quality and safety of the products (e.g., "Vype is a pioneer in the science of vaping"), touting the sensations that can be expected during consumption (e.g., "freshness is in the spotlight"), encouraging consumption through a loyalty program (e.g., "subscribe & save"), and highlighting the advantages of the product by comparing it to tobacco products (e.g., "vaping on average can cost 3 times less than a pack of traditional cigarettes"). These types of statements on a website that sells e-cigarettes do not fall within the exception in the law permitting posters "placed inside establishments marketing [e-cigarettes] and not visible from the outside." The court concluded that the "notion of a poster refers to the obvious requirement for a paper medium and not a virtual one." As a result, the court ordered BAT France to delete a number of promotional statements from the website and pay the National Committee for Tobacco Control damages (€30,000), irrevocable costs under the French Code of Civil Procedure (€8,000), and legal costs.
BAT - Surreptitious Advertising of Glo on Social Media [Italy] [September 30, 2021]
A consumer protection organization brought a complaint before the Italian Competition Authority alleging British American Tobacco Italia S.p.A. (BAT) and individual social media influencers violated the Consumer Code through Instagram posts promoting Glo Hyper, a heated tobacco product. The specific promotional practice at issue was a "call to action" where the influencers encouraged their followers to post content containing tags and hashtags related to Glo without asking them to also disclose the promotional nature of the posts. The influencers would then re-post the best user-generated content.
Ultimately, the regulatory authority declined to find an offense because both BAT and the influencers made certain commitments that the regulatory authority felt were sufficient to provide consumers with complete and accurate information going forward. These commitments by BAT included: (1) the adoption of Influencer Marketing Guidelines; (2) the addition of contractual provisions should BAT directly contract with influencers in the future; (3) the addition of contractual language if BAT contracts with influencers through an agency that would require the agency to monitor the influencers' activities and adherence to the Guidelines; (4) asking followers to include appropriate hashtags in any future calls to action; and (5) removal of the pages/posts that are subject to this dispute. The influencers agreed to: (1) remove the posts at issue; (2) use the appropriate hashtags in any future advertising and marketing activities; and (3) inform their followers that any user-generated content that doesn't contain the necessary tags or hashtags will not be considered in any contests.
National Committee for Tobacco Control v. British American Tobacco France [France] [February 12, 2021]
This order for urgent proceedings was brought by the National Committee for Tobacco Control (CNCT) against British American Tobacco France (BAT France), which had posted on a website marketing an e-cigarette called "VYPE ePod" in violation of tobacco advertising and promotion laws. CNCT asked the Nanterre Judicial Court to compel BAT France to delete the site; to disclose to CNCT data on sales volumes and related information through the site; and to pay both advance compensation and compensation under relevant articles of the the French Code of Civil Procedure.
The Court referred the parties to appeal on the substance of the dispute, and provisionally reserved judgment as to the parties' claims. It dismissed CNCT's claims for the disclosure of sales data. It ordered deletion of certain language on the website and ordered BAT France to pay CNCT €1,000 as an advance payment on its claim for damages, €5,000 to CNCT in irrecoverable costs under the French Code of Civil Procedure, and legal costs.
Baldassare v. British American Tobacco Argentina [Argentina] [December 28, 2020]
The plaintiff brought an action against British American Tobacco (BAT) Argentina, seeking damages for all the health problems allegedly resulting from his use of tobacco products. In particular, he sought compensation for a heart attack he suffered. He claimed that when he began smoking, the advertisements were misleading and did not warn him about the possible health problems caused by the substances in cigarettes. The judge determined that: (i) the case was not time-barred, (ii) tobacco consumption was probably one of the reasons for the heart attack, and (iii) the victim did not assume the risks of smoking because he was not sufficiently well informed, as required by the country's consumer protection law, and because he was not free to direct his actions due to the addiction. The lower court determined that BAT had to pay compensatory damages and also a fine as punitive damages.
Public Ministry of Rio de Janeiro v. Rock World SA, Souza Cruz Ltda, and Vega Fina Tabacaria Eireli [Brazil] [November 02, 2020]
The Public Ministry in Rio de Janeiro presented a civil action against Rock World SA, Souza Cruz Ltda, and Vega Fina Tabacaria Eireli for illegal advertising in the festival "Rock in Rio" 2017. On November 2, 2020, the court concluded that the defendants engaged in unlawful advertising during the festival. The illegal advertising included (i) visually ostentatious advertising of smoking products and (ii) "mobile sellers.” On the other hand, the sale of a kit that included cigarettes and a lighter with the logo of "Rock in Rio" was not recognized as an illegal practice. The defendants were sanctioned as follows – (1) Defendants were fined R$ 2,000,000.00 for collective moral damages. For individual material and moral damages, each consumer will need to prove individually the actual damage suffered. (2) Defendants must carry out counter-advertising in partnership with public universities and hospitals informing consumers about the risks, prevention, and treatment of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), and smoking cessation.
In addition to bringing this enforcement action against the illegal advertising that took place at the Rock in Rio 2017, the Public Ministry sought an interim judgment barring illegal promotional activities at the then upcoming Rock in Rio 2019 festival. In response to this request, the court issued a series of orders restricting the promotional activities at the 2019 festival.
La Prensa S.A. v. General Directorate of Public Health of the Ministry of Health [Panama] [March 05, 2020]
An amparo remedy was filed against Resolution No. 0573 of February 27, 2019, issued by the General Directorate of Public Health of the Ministry of Health. The resolution sanctioned La Prensa S.A. with a fine of B$ 10,000.00 for publishing a news article on IQOS sponsored by Philip Morris. The article was titled "NEW ALTERNATIVES COMING FOR ADULT SMOKERS". La Prensa was fined as a result of non-compliance with the total ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. La Prensa objected to the fine on the basis that its constitutional rights to be heard, to offer evidence, and to due process were violated. However, the Court declined to grant the amparo and upheld the sanction since the Ministry of Health acted according to its legal powers.
Dir. of CPI of SIC v. Coltabaco S.A.S. et al. [Colombia] [December 27, 2019]
In 2017, the Directorate of Consumer Protection Investigations of the Superintendency of Industry and Commerce ("SIC") opened an investigation following a complaint to prompt SIC to stop IQOS marketing.
SIC dismissed the complaint after taking the following into consideration:
- The Ministry of Health asked for IQOS products to be treated as tobacco products.
- SIC focused on the fact that only the tobacco sticks for heated tobacco products, as opposed to the IQOS device, are mandated to have health warnings.
- According to the SIC, IQOS does not fall under the authority of the tobacco control law in Colombia (Law No. 1335).
- IQOS marketing practices have not violated consumer protection regulations in Colombia.
ASA Ruling on British American Tobacco UK Ltd. [United Kingdom] [December 18, 2019]
Following complaints by leading health organizations, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled that British American Tobacco (BAT) can no longer use any public Instagram account to promote e-cigarettes in the UK. The ruling includes BAT’s use of influencer marketing to advertise e-cigarettes and orders BAT to remove unlawful e-cigarette advertising content currently on Instagram.
UK regulations clearly prohibit online advertising of e-cigarettes, but allow a manufacturer to provide factual product information such as the name, content and price of the product on its own websites. The ASA ruling has clarified that public social media accounts, like @govype run by BAT, are not analogous to a website, and therefore, neither factual nor promotional content for e-cigarettes is permitted.
The Tel Aviv Chamber of Commerce v. State of Israel – Ministry of Health, Israeli Knesset, and Knesset Economics Committee [Israel] [November 25, 2019]
The importer and manufacturers' forum of vaporization products at the Tel Aviv Chamber of Commerce challenged amendments to the Restriction of Advertising and Marketing of Tobacco Products Law passed in December 2018. The Tel Aviv Chamber of Commerce specifically challenged the extension of tobacco-related restrictions to e-cigarettes, including an advertising ban, a display ban, and plain packaging, as well as a nicotine concentration limit of 20mg/ml for e-liquids. This case was dismissed.
National Council of Consumers and Users (Associazione dei Consumatori) v. two electronic cigarette manufacturers [names redacted] [Italy] [November 15, 2019]
The National Council of Consumers and Users, headquartered in Rome, petitioned a civil division at the Court of Rome on September 13, 2019 against two e-cigarette defendants to have their marketing removed on the internet (including via defendants’ own social media accounts), printed publications, and through organizing or sponsoring public events aimed at promoting e-cigarettes.
The Court found in favor of plaintiffs holding that “[i]n view of the "restrictive approach to the advertising of electronic cigarettes and liquid refill containers" aimed at achieving "a high level of protection of human health", clearly stated in Paragraph 43 of Directive 2014/40/EU, the defense argument shall be dismissed..
The Court ordered:
- Defendants to remove all commercial communications related to electronic cigarettes and refill cartridges deemed unlawful (including content from their websites and social media pages and all unlawful content reposted by Defendants) within 15 days from the date of this judgment;
- Defendants will be fined € 500.00 for each violation and for each day of delay in the execution of this order; and
- Defendants are jointly liable to the reimbursement of all legal costs related to these proceedings in favor of plaintiffs and to a compensation of €6,000.00 in addition to administrative costs, VAT and CPA.